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The Current State of Fake Digital Identities

The number of fake users on social media is rampant – and they have had more and more of an impact in recent years.

If Twitter’s congressional testimony is to be believed, about 5 percent of their active users aren’t real people. However, some independent studies, such as this one from Indiana University and USC, have pinned the number as high as 15 percent for their platform. That’s about as high as Facebook says their bot percentage was in 2017, in the wake of the US presidential election. They now claim that around 4 percent of their users are fake accounts.

Unfortunately, getting an accurate idea of the number of active fake users on such a scale is inherently a difficult process, and it’s more than possible that official figures are underestimations. In fact, Facebook even says as much in their recent SEC filing, where they state that

“It is possible that the actual number of duplicate and false accounts may vary significantly from our estimates.” -- Facebook Inc, April 2019

There’s plenty of reasons for fake users on the internet – whether they happen to be bots (the vast majority) or simply people pretending to be someone they’re not. Some of them are there to hawk a product of some sort, a lot like getting robocalls on your cell phone. Some are there to scam you out of your hard-earned money, by pretending to be your relative lost in another country or posing as royalty who will definitely wire you millions as soon as you give them your credit card number.

Even non-traditional social media, such as dating apps, have become inundated with fake users hoping to tease a buck out of their unsuspecting target – or in a recent case, the locations and images of Israeli soldiers. Still, most would agree that perhaps the most relevant purpose of fake users is manipulation of opinion, especially in relation to politics.

Social media can be an important vector for scams to proliferate

During the US 2016 elections, for exa...

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